Driving through rural Wisconsin on our way from Iowa to the Chicago airport, we stopped at an old barn to take pictures of the corn that filled our front, side and rear views the past three days. I peered through the slats and saw the barn was open so I ran around back to see what was inside. This beautiful old machine stood there, long unused, but not discarded.
All during our drive I wondered what Iowa looked like before corn and soy filled it’s fields. And I wondered if we could ever go back to the days when farmers saved their seeds and worried what they would do if the crops failed.
It’s so easy to fixate on our current problems and romanticize the past. But one thing is for certain: progress is a force beyond our control. We can’t go backwards.
Progress is not all bad, of course, but I’d like to think it’s more likely to be successful when it comes from a pure desire to improve our lives. Yet, those be muddy waters. We can’t fully predict the consequences of our actions. That said, it’s not an excuse not to try.
We can fulfill our need to improve but that doesn’t mean we should have a free pass forward.
All that says the girl who often makes impulsive decisions. Yes, we are an impulsive species, and even more so in the age of instant feedback. But we are also gifted with self reflection and awareness. And advancement in my mind is about honing that skill to transcend the parts of our human nature that no longer suite us. Like over-prescribed gender roles, and violence.
We can build tools to help map the future. We can have thoughtful, reflective conversations and we can do amazing things. If we can build a massive monoculture agriculture system, we can also unbuild it. If we can build pipelines under the ocean, we can also rebuild our energy grid with renewable resources.
It’s easy to get overwhelmed with the state our world is in, it’s easy to throw your hands in the air and declare us fucked. But if there is one thing this road trip has taught me, it’s that if we ignore these issues, we surrender our greatest gift.
It’s time to be awake America! We can’t afford to sleep on this one!
Yesterday, my nephew Ozzie Herman Barrish, came into the world, early in the am – just a few hours long of being born on my birthday. It was a beautiful Vermont day, the day after a huge snow storm. It was sunny and there was no wind, so at 13 degrees, after weeks of single digit temps, it actually felt warm. I went for a cross country ski behind my house and took a picture of the lake just before sunset. There were amazing patterns of ice + snow + water. It seemed fitting to marvel at the beauty of creation.
Today, I took advantage of another, even warmer day (30 degrees!) to get out for a ski. This time, when I visited the water, the ice from yesterday had completely detached and become a parade of floating geometric shapes moving with the tide. When I returned home and opened my email, I read the news that my friend Peter, who had been fighting cancer, was in his last few days of life. It was time to say goodbye.
Bam! Creation and destruction, it could not be more obvious. the unavoidable pair. One can not be without the other. We have no choice but to face them both.
We must take the opportunities to marvel when we can…
and say goodbye when we have to.
I’ve been thinking a lot about this ever since we sat and talked with Paul Budnitz for a Makin’ Friends with Ryan Miller episode. He talked about stories, and how they are the things we create for ourselves to make sense of our world and while that’s great, at the end of the day, if we put too much stake in these stories and they don’t work out, we’re fucked. It’s a solid point and I’m so curious to know if other people see it that way.
I know that I rely on and spend a lot of time on crafting my identity – who I am, what makes me tick. It helps me align my focus, my time, my path. But I’ve always been ok pivoting when necessary. I’ve pivoted a bunch. And while I’m comfortable with the idea, pivoting is not always a peaceful thing. Because often, when I pivot, I’m making a decision that I’m not __ anymore. I’ve got to ditch that old self and sometimes it hurts the way it hurts to cut ties with an ex-boyfriend. We created identities around those things, around those people, and when they are gone, that iteration of ourself needs to cease in order to move on.
But does it ever really die? In college when I studied anthropology, I was fascinated with the idea of culture change (and still am.) I read a book called “Number Our Days” by Barbara Meyerhoff about a group of older Jewish emigrants and how they tried to hold onto their culture in the face of assimilation. This is my ancestry’s story. And while my story is very different than theirs, I can look back and see the proof: cultures don’t die, they evolve, sometimes slowly, sometimes drastically. It’s not a question of if, it’s a question of speed.
I get why Paul is not a fan of stories, why he prefers un-attachment to attachment. It’s a philosophy I flirted with for many years during my martial arts training. But I’ve come to the conclusion that a life worth living is one where we put our entire heart into what we do. Where we commit to the story for the time being. And we accept that we might love and lose…and have to pivot and pivot again.
I find reflections to be so powerful.
The ability to see something twice, to double its presence, its impact.
I love the double meaning of the word reflect. Representing a potentially potent moment in the present – seeing more than one instance of oneself or some thing; as well as the act of looking to the past with the perspective that only time brings.
To be honest, I’m never a big fan of myself or my decisions when I look into the past and while I know some people who relish their days of yore, I’m pretty sure I’m not alone here. To me that’s the whole point of reflection. Reflection is not the same as recollection. Reflection implies an alternate perspective. Reflection, done well = growth.
I walked over these leaves the other day, car pressed into the gravel driveway. It was the way they both stood out and blended that caught my eye. So I pulled out my phone and kneeled over to take as many pictures of these leaves before I got run over. Days later looking at them closer than I was able to at the time, I love observing the gravel collage – created from a steady stream of cars compacting the many tiny pieces into one solid form. And then there are these leaves – resigned to their fate of decay; becoming part of the gravel collage – helpless but to accept their new designation.
And now I have Car Wheels on a Gravel Road stuck in my head.
I spent the evening at my friend Adam and Sarah’s house. They are some of the first post-college friends that I made here in Vermont. The first of a new wave of friends who came to Vermont to stay and make it their home. These are the people that make up my Vermont family. I’ve seen them go from dating to married, buy their first home and have their first kid. They lived most of my 20’s with me – a time that looking back feels like an endless iterative process of self-discovery. We tease each other like siblings and finish sentences with just a look. They are the people that are as comforting to me as the rolling green fields that I drive by for the thousandth time, they are the landscape of home.
Today I went for a walk in my backyard, my beautiful, amazing backyard. I needed to find some space in my brain to process something that’s been nagging me for weeks. Decisions. Not the little, perpetual kind I talked about yesterday. But a big one, one that deals with questions like survival and life meaning. I’m charting my path, a process that I see as a delicate combination between reality and fantasy. You’ve got to consider what’s actually possible and then imbue that with what you want the most. When you figure those two pieces out that’s when the magic happens…
Cue the pixie dust.
If I’m supposed to just spend five minutes writing, I’ve not been following directions. But that’s nothing new. I prefer to do things that don’t involve reading or following directions – that’s the reason that I don’t bake much – too many rules that are actually there for a reason. I prefer rules that are meant to be broken. Flexibility fits me much better.
A while ago I read the book “How We Decide” by Jonah Lehrer (I know, I know, but I enjoyed it;) he explained that the frontal cortex (or some more accurate scientific name/brain part – I’d look it up – but I only have five minutes to write this – yes – convenient rule following going on here – aka – sleepiness/laziness) does all the work when making decisions. I was struck by the notion of how much time we spend making decisions – or rather – how much time I spend making decisions. With flexibility comes many, many decisions. With structure, a lot less.
I bet I have a proportionately large frontal cortex. And if it works like this, which I think it does, (cue other interesting neuroscience book The Brain That Changes Itself) I wonder if I embraced structure more – and spent less time deciding – what other part of my brain would be able to work more?! Yet – I also think that it’s this flexibility that is my strength or at least makes me a good producer and goes hand in hand with a creative mind.
I’ve been wanting to start a photo project to play with the idea of visual haikus. The idea started literally – 5 photos by 7 photos by 5 photos. But that didn’t seem right. True to American education; that was the definition that I knew a haiku to be. Yet, having read them, and having spent many years studying a Japanese discipline, my instinct told me there was much more to them than that.
So I’ve begun to explore the realm of haiku and it makes perfect sense why I’m drawn to this art. Haikus are minimalist, they focus on images in nature and their power lies in creating tension. Nature + brevity + juxtaposition. yep. that’s my jam.
If anyone (Steve,) can recommend some good reading, please let me know!